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Just finished The Letter by Kathyrn Hughes. It’s a very intricate tale. At first it’s about Tina, a battered wife [at which point I paused and wondered if I wanted to read any further, but I’m glad I did]. She tries to get the courage to leave her husband. Then enters the letter she finds in a suit pocket in the thrift shop where she volunteers. It’s old – sealed and stamped, but never mailed. Then you learn about Crissie, decades earlier, a young pregnant girl who is sent off to Ireland to a distant relative by her father, then to a rigid (meaning horrible) convent [the book takes place mostly in Manchester, England and in rural Ireland]. The letter is addressed to her. Jump forward decades and William, the adopted child Crissie gave up, tries to find his birth mother. William meets Tina in Ireland [a serendipitous moment] as she’s trying to find the woman to whom the letter is addressed. This book is the #2 best seller on Amazon at the moment. It’s a riveting tale and I really enjoyed it.

Read Grace Unshakled, by Irene Huising. From Amazon’s page, it says: “In the year 2025, 17-year-old Grace Duncan finds herself in shackles because of her faith in Christ. An obedient daughter and stellar student, doing time in jail was never on her mental radar, despite the changes in religious laws [this takes place here in the United States] over the past few years. Through twists and turns in circumstances, Grace and a small band of Christians in Newport Beach, California begin a journey to discover what it means to follow Christ with unwavering faith in the midst of increasing persecution. Facing the potential loss of all her hopes and dreams, would Christ be enough?” We read this for one of my book clubs, and it’s a scary thought about what it could mean if we take God out of our country. The author is a friend of a friend and she attended our book club meeting to share about how she came to write this book. I don’t often share my faith here on my website, but this book made me stop and think about the direction our government is going, removing more and more our ability to worship God. Or to worship in any religion. Will this book ever make waves in the book world? Probably not. My copy may be a pre-edited version, as it contained numerous typos and formatting errors. But they didn’t detract from the subject, just the cosmetics. The book doesn’t come to a resolution; in fact it leaves you hanging, as some books do. It was intentional (obviously), but left me wondering about the “end of the story.”

Also just finished reading The Muralist: A Novel by Shapiro. It tells the story of a young woman, an artist, who was part of the U.S.’s WPA mural project from the 1930s-40s (she is fiction, the WPA is not). As with so many artists, even today, they live in abject poverty through much of their lives. This woman, though, had family in France, desperately trying to escape before Hitler’s henchmen rousted them into concentration camps. The story, a bit of a mystery but not of the mystery-genre, is about Alizée Benoit, this young painter, who slightly captivates Eleanor Roosevelt’s help. It also skips into current time when the painter’s great-niece uncovers paintings she believes were painted by her aunt. The painter had disappeared into thin air in 1940, and her relative tries desperately to find out what happened to her. It’s a really good story including such Abstract Expressionist painters as Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, and Lee Krasner well-woven into the narrative. It keeps you guessing right up to the end. A good read. The author also wrote The Art Forger: A Novel a few years ago.

Read The German Girl: A Novel by Correa. It chronicles the story of a wealthy German Jewish family in Berlin, as the Nazis arrive and make life a living hell. The family is lucky (I guess you could say this) to be allowed to purchase passage on the M.S. St. Louis, a passenger liner, to take them to “the Americas.” The destination is actually Cuba. The story is told from two voices – the teenage daughter in this story, and from a current-day distant family member who is trying to learn about her ancestry. Of the 900+ passengers on the ship, only a few were allowed to disembark since the Cuban President decided he needed more money to accept them. Most families had no money left, as the Reich had taken nearly all of their assets. The daughter and her very eccentric mother were allowed to stay in Cuba.  The remaining passengers are rejected by the U.S. too, and eventually return to Europe, where most of the Jews end up dying in concentration camps. The story goes back and forth from the 1939 journey to current day as the link between the two women is slowly revealed. I had a tough time sometimes, tracking the people in this book, but the story was very riveting. It’s based on facts about the ship (see Wikipedia link above if you’re interested). A shameful chapter in history.

Recently finished reading a magnificent historical novel. Not new. Philippa Gregory has been a favorite author of mine for a couple of decades. You may remember her most famous book, The Other Boleyn Girl, published some years ago. I thought that was a really great book. I’ve read other books by Gregory, but most recently I read The King’s Curse (The Plantagenet and Tudor Novels). The time period is the 1450s to 1541, mostly under the rule of King Henry VIII, the infamous womanizer and wife/Queen-killer. The man who cursed Rome (the Pope) – he wanted his first marriage annulled because Queen Catherine couldn’t produce a living male heir. And subsequently made himself the head of the church in England in order to do so. It was a Catholic country at the time. This story (it’s fiction, but woven with intricate historical detail) is from the voice of Margaret of York (a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine),  who was a Plantagenet in her own right (which is key to the later events in the book). Certainly I’ve read other novels over the years that dealt with Henry VIII, but not with this much breadth of info. What a wicked, sinful man he was. And did I say tyrant. Wow.  I could hardly put it down, through its nearly 600 pages. In the author’s notes at the end, she shares relatively recent medical info that suggests Henry probably suffered from a rare problem, Kell positive blood type, which can cause miscarriages, stillbirths and infant deaths IF the mother has the more common Kell negative blood type. And that in his later years, he may have had McLeod syndrome, a disease only found in Kell positive individuals. Around the age of 40 it causes physical degeneration and personality changes resulting in paranoia, depression and irrational behavior. All of those King Henry VIII had in spades. If you read the book, you might read the author’s notes (at the end) before reading the book. If you like historical fiction (I love any book about English history) you’ll just love this one. It’s interesting, though, as I think about the many books I’ve read covering this era in English history, that each book presented its hero/heroine as the most innocent and worthy individual vying for the crown of England. I remember thinking Anne Boleyn was dealt with so badly during her life (and certainly her beheading), and yet reading this book, I completely reversed my opinion. Anne Boleyn was called a wh–e by most people during the years she shared Henry’s bed. The “curse” from the title pertains to Henry’s inability or the curse on the Tudors, that caused him to fail in producing a male heir. In any case, none of Henry’s wives should have died for it – likely it was all Henry’s fault anyway. Just read this one, okay?

Also recently read News of the World: A Novel by Paulette Jiles. One of my book-reading friends said this is one of the best books she’s ever read in her life. That kind of praise required me to read it and I just LOVED it. It’s about an old man (a widower), who was a former military captain, during the 1800s, who goes from town to town to read out loud the current news of the world (yes, there WAS such a free-lance job.) Newspapers didn’t make it to small towns back then. By chance he’s asked to take a 10-year old girl to East Texas to reunite with relatives. The child had been captured by an Indian tribe as a baby (her family was killed in the raid), raised by the Kiowa and as was often the case of such children, she wants nothing to do with leaving. So the “hero” in this story has his hands full. And yet, they learn to trust each other on the journey. Reaching the destination, there are lots of complications (of course!). This book is truly a wonderful read – I didn’t want it to end. The author has a gift of description and the severe dangers and difficulties of an old (wild) west horse and wagon journey. The relationship is tender. Now I’ve got to investigate the author’s other books, of which there are many. Just read this one first!

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Desserts, on March 11th, 2016.

apple_bread_crumb_pudding

Every so often I tell you – MAKE THIS. Here’s one of those occasions. It may not look all that special, but if you’ve read my blog long enough to trust my advice, then this is a dessert you need to make.

A few weeks ago I had a luncheon at my house. It was a fund-raising event for my P.E.O. chapter. I do some kind of an event every year and ladies in my P.E.O. sisterhood sign up and pay money to come to my house for whatever it is I’ve organized. The money is donated to the chapter (and money sent to Cottey College, in Iowa, to help support that small, but growing women’s college). Another sister had suggested that I borrow a DVD from her from her collection of The Great Courses. Renowned lecturers and professors present 45+ minute videos about a variety of things, from history, to science, to literature. Alice had recommended I look at the history segments and choose one that the group (10 of us) would watch.

So, I planned the lunch. I chose a video about the far-reaching effects of the Opium Wars of the 1600s (which affected world trade and still does today). I’d intended to choose something about American history, but found the Opium War one a bit more interesting. Nevertheless, I planned a menu revolving around old-American recipes. Months before my co-hostess and I divided up the food to prepare and invitations sent out, etc. Then, bless her heart, Linda, got sick and ended up in the hospital, so I hosted the event alone and doing all the food. I was a bit pooped-out by the end of the day, I’ll tell you! My friend is doing okay, is home and now taking new heart medication.

After watching the video, I did a sherry tasting. Staying true to the old-America theme, I knew that gentile women, back in the 1800s would only have partaken of sherry in the “drawing room” or the “parlour.” So I dug out some small liqueur glasses (at one time, years ago, I had some sherry glasses, but I don’t know what happened to them). I bought a bottle of sherry for this, but then thought – oh, I should look in my liquor closet and see what I have. Hmmm. Nothing less than 7 bottles of varying types of sherry. Two duplicates too! I do use sherry in cooking, and sometimes the recipe will call for very dry, or medium, or amontillado, or fino, etc. One of my PEO sisters helped me with the pouring while I worked a bit in the kitchen. Anyway, we progressed from very dry, to Bristol Cream and everything in between. Most of them had never tasted the different types, so they learned something. And definitely it needed to be Spanish sherry. During early America days, sherry was brought across the sea in huge casks on ships.

We sat down for the lunch, and I explained to everyone about the history of Country Captain, the main dish I had decided to make and one I posted about in 2010. It’s a chicken stew, of sorts, that originated in India, but came to the Americas via Savannah. It’s a mild curry dish loaded with bell peppers and onions, then topped with condiments (this time I used toasted coconut, toasted almonds and fresh bananas). It’s served over white rice.

Then I served this dessert. It originally appeared in a cookbook called Miss Leslie’s Complete Cookery (published in 1837) and Tori Avey, a food blogger, mostly of old time American recipe, knows from her copious research, that Mary Todd Lincoln bought the cookbook (some archive actually has the receipt of the purchase), and since it may have been her only cookbook (such books were few and far between back then) it’s assumed that either she (or the family cook) would have prepared this apple dish for the President for sure. I read Tori’s blog post to my group.

And everyone raved about it. Did I say several people asked if they could lick the plate? They did ask, but of course, no one did. I wanted to also. I’m so happy I still have a serving left which I’ll enjoy today sometime. WITH the little bit of nutmeg-almond-cream poured over it.

What’s GOOD: this dessert is just unctuous. I don’t use that word much, so you can take that to mean it’s something very special. It’s soft and warm and comforting and ever-so American like apple pie, but without all the fat from a pie crust. Do serve it with the nutmeg enhanced cream. It almost “made” the dish IMHO.

What’s NOT: it takes a bit of time to peel and slice 11 apples, but it’s SO worth the time in doing so. A real keeper of a recipe.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 14/15 file (click on link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Apple Bread Crumb Pudding

Recipe By: From a food blog: toriavey.com
Serving Size: 12

12 small Granny Smith apples
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons nutmeg
1/4 cup unsalted butter — plus more for greasing the dish
1 1/4 cup brown sugar — [I used dark brown]
1 cup bread crumbs — (homemade crumbs from artisan bread are best)
CREAM SAUCE:
1 pint heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon almond extract

NOTE: If you buy artisan bread for this (recommended) pulse the crumbs in the food processor, but leave them with just a bit of texture – a few pieces of 1/4″ chunks will be fine. [I used about a third of a ciabatta loaf.]
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Peel and core the apples, then slice them very thin (use a mandoline if you have one). Place the slices in a large mixing bowl. Pour lemon juice and lemon zest over the apples along with the nutmeg. Toss the apples with a spatula till evenly coated by the lemon juice, zest, and nutmeg. [I poured the juice and zest in the bottom of the bowl, and after slicing 2 apples at a time, I used my hands to toss and coat the apples with the juice. By the end, there won’t be any juice left in the bowl – the apples will absorb it all.]
2. Chop the unsalted butter into many very small chunks.
3. Grease a 9×13 baking dish with unsalted butter. Create a single thick layer of apple slices on the bottom of the dish, covering the entire surface with apples.
4. Sprinkle a generous layer of brown sugar on top of the apples. Dot a few bits of butter across the top of the sugar, then sprinkle a thin layer of bread crumbs on top of the butter. Repeat the layering, finishing with a thin layer of bread crumbs.
5. Bake uncovered for 50-60 minutes, until the edges are brown, the pudding is cooked through, and the apples are soft. Use a knife to test the apples. Serve warm with cream sauce. [If you use a different sized baking dish, it may take longer to bake – use a knife to test the apples, as the recipe indicates.]
6. SAUCE: Pour heavy cream into a small pot and warm slowly over medium heat, whisking as it warms. When it begins to boil, whisk in powdered sugar, nutmeg and almond extract. Remove from heat and strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a serving pitcher. It will form a skin if not served immediately. [This can be made a day ahead, left out at room temp, and reheated in 200°F oven for about an hour.]
Per Serving: 339 Calories; 19g Fat (49.8% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 41g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 65mg Cholesterol; 102mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on March 12th, 2016:

    This is unique among all the old-timey apple dessert recipes I’ve come across. Definitely something I’ll want to make.

    Oh, I hope you do, Donna. So many others may just look at the recipe and go right on past, thinking it’s just like any other apple dessert, but it’s truly NOT like all the others. I want to make this again. Soon. It was so delicious! . . . carolyn t

  2. hddonna

    said on March 13th, 2016:

    I think your choice of bread here–ciabatta–is inspired. I do a version of Smitten Kitchen’s scalloped tomatoes, and it is way better when I make it with ciabatta than with other breads. It absorbs the liquid but doesn’t just turn into mush–it still has some texture. I would think it would perform similarly here.

    Well, I think the original recipe called for “artisan” bread, and going to Trader Joe’s, the only one I thought could possibly equate to that was the ciabatta. And yes, it certainly has more form and texture. It’s NOT a soft bread, for sure. . . carolyn t

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